Monday, June 7, 2010

By Fatuma Noor

Between April and June 1994, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed in the space of 100 days.Most of the dead were Tutsis - and most of those who perpetrated the violence were Hutus.Even for a country with such a turbulent history as Rwanda, the scale and speed of the slaughter left its people reeling. Sixteen years later the country has made great strides in its reconciliation process but despite the passing of time the memories of the 100 days are still very clear to many survivor victims.

Sixteen years ago Redempta Jaramba,27, witnessed as her family of 15 burned to death in the western part of Rwanda, although she was too young then to understand, the memory of what happened is still very clear in her mind.
She was only 11 years of age when the Rwandan genocide happened which left more than 850,000 Tutsis massacred including her family.
Now as she sits at the Kigali Memorial centre where more than 250,000 people, including her entire family are buried in a mass grave, she recalls the events of that fateful day.
With tears rolling down her cheeks she tells me that it was too late for anyone else in her house to run as the men who were surrounding her house had locked the house from both sides and already doused the house with petrol.
“It all started with gunshots and the next thing we had men surrounding our house, my father threw me out using the back window as all doors were closed, but no one else could fit” she recalls.

Redempta, who was the youngest in the family, recalls that her father tried to break down the door but in vain and in no time the house was up in flames and as much as she cried for help no one could come to rescue her or the family.
“I stayed there watching, too young to understand why people would kill each other, trying to understand what people had done to each other to attract the awful attacks against one another, against neighbours, friends and even family” she says.
Weeks later with nothing to eat and surviving by the grace of God, the 11 year old just sat alone and lonely among the burned bodies of her father, sick mother, sisters and other family members "The killers had set fire to everyone and everything that was left," she says quietly. "So, I sat among their teeth and bones, the only thing that was left of my family before Red Cross who came to pick the remains of those that survived rescued me."
Redempta was then taken to a children’s centre where she found other hundreds of children and widows who were provided rescue by the centre.
A decade and a half later, she still cannot believe that her family's Hutu neighbour, the owner of a local shop they sometimes visited and whose children she played with one day without provocation just burned her family alive.
“Jonah’s father was someone who knew us well, we bought milk from him, went to school with his son and even ate at his house, he was the only one I recognized among the four whom I watched torch my house from my hiding place” she says.
She remembers the dates only too well. “It was on a Wednesday April 27, we had spent the entire week in the house as it wasn’t safe for us, at least that’s what my father said” she says. “I just wouldn't die," she adds.
“Some nights I can’t sleep and I have no one to call family, I replay the incident over and over I my head and 16 years later, my memory is still clear and it doesn’t seem ready to go away anytime soon,” said Redempta.
Even visits to counsellors providing help to the children at the centre did not ease the pain that she still feels or make her forget the trauma she witnessed.
Her scars have grown no less livid with time, she is yet to forgive Jonah’s father.
“To this moment I don’t understand why he did it, if only I could meet him now that am a grown woman. I don’t know what I would do to him.” She tells me. After she left the orphanage the Red Cross placed her in, Redempta wanted to go back and just look at the man who killed her family but her aunt whom she now lives with refused and said it wasn’t still safe for a Tutsi” she tells me.
Her understanding of the genocide came to her at the orphanage because the older children and the widows were always talking about the whole sorry event. “They were saying things, my father never told me about the hatred that existed between the Hutus and the Tutsi’s, it’s here that I understood,” she says.
Redempta wishes that she could have given her family a proper burial but since she cannot she visits the mass grave once every month and tries to go back just so to remember the loved ones she lost every time she gets a chance.
“I come here twice every month to place flowers at the memorial and say prayers for the people buried here with my family,” she said.
She is yet to forgive the murderers of her family and she says that for her life can never be the same again because of the genocide. “ I cannot trust anyone, be they a neighbour or even family. I believe they could all turn on you like my neighbour did, which proves how cruel the world is” she says.
“This is not what I had planned for, I wanted to have children and they would have people they would call family, but now even if I start my own family, I have no one to call my family, my children will not have grandparents who could spoil them with love” she laments.

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